Saturday, 19 September 2009

Are You Ready for PMFL?-2009 Update

In a previous post dating back to 2007, I was looking at what schools were doing to get prepared for the 2010 deadline for teaching foreign languages at Primary. Two years later, what has changed? Although there are pockets of outstanding practice, the overall picture is still “chaotic and variable”...

By 2011, all children aged 7-11 must have the opportunity to learn a foreign language. Learning a foreign language engages children, helps them develop general oracy and literacy skills, grow in confidence as learners, as well as broaden their intercultural understanding.

Primary language teaching is inclusive and can benefit special educational needs, English as an Additional Language learners, as well as children who have newly arrived in England. Some research also supports the theory that young children have the ability to learn languages quicker. Although the validity of this theory is discussed on a regular basis, anybody who has taught languages at Primary notices that the general attitude towards language-learning feels a lot more positive.

Recent research findings show that 92% of Primary Schools are teaching languages during class time, with 69% teaching languages to all 4 years of KS2.
The most often mentioned benefits of PMFL were to develop enthusiasm, Listening and Speaking skills and understanding other cultures.

Clearly, Primary Headteachers play a vital role in establishing a clear rationale, vision and strategy for primary languages. Planning for and delivering PMFL must be seen as a step-by-step learning process for all, and collaboration between schools (both primary and secondary), local authorities and key agencies is surely the recipe for success.

Good practice also includes:

-Conduct a school languages audit;

-Contact your Local Authority advisor, although sadly there might not always be one in place;

-Appoint a subject co-ordinator for primary languages (PL);

-Make links with local secondary schools and Specialist Language Colleges;

-Visit the primary languages website to check their training videos and resources
-Explore the possibility of taking on a PGCE student with a language specialism;
-Network with other language teachers to find out about new ideas and resources.

A school language audit is a very useful way of identifying expertise and capacity within the school and also among parents, children and the wider school community. It also shows that the school values languages other than English and raises awareness of the different languages spoken in the school community. Projects like the “Language of the Month” project can be replicated and are invaluable in boosting all students’ self image as successful language learners.

The school language audit should also inform the decision of which language to teach and plan future training needs but the choice of the language will also depend on:

-Contacts with target language countries, established community links through town twinnings for instance, ease of travel;

-The languages which are taught in neighbouring primary and secondary schools;

-The availability of specialist support in Local Authorities, Specialist Language Colleges and other secondary schools;

-The writing system of a particular language;

-The expectations and ambitions of parents and pupils;

-The language policies of the Local Authority;

-The capacity to sustain and resource the teaching of a particular language across KS2.

Primary teachers are in the ideal position to embed languages into daily classroom routines and across the curriculum. Their access to children opens up all sorts of possibilities which are denied to the secondary teacher with 1-2 hours a week. Children should also use languages for real communication purposes as well as learning language incidentally through activities combined with other subjects. That is why more and more schools are considering Comenius projects or e-twinning.

Schools are also becoming more and more skilled at planning such cross-curricular modules and the new reviewed QCA schemes of work can help with this too, suggesting ideas to include music, art, PE, ICT and much more...

KS2/KS3 Transition is still a worry but more and more strategies are being shared to cope with this.

So what has changed? The feeling that PMFL may be a passing trend. It is definitely here to stay, so let’s see how we can support each other to make this a successful journey leading to more good language-learning.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Naked Teaching-Reflecting on The Use of Technology in The Classroom

I had a very interesting experience this week. My laptop suddenly became unusable and I had 50 minutes to prepare a lesson with no projected visuals, no recorded sound and no video clips.
What happened? Armed with a black bin liner bag turned into a “touchy feely mystery item” bag and feeling a little bit awkward, I suddenly realised how dependent I am on technology.
Why? Ten years ago, it was not a problem-the technology was not readily available in schools and therefore not expected.

“Naked Teaching” can be a strategy to develop quality learning and teaching in the classroom, as advocated by José Antonio Bowen, Dean at Southern Methodist University in the United States.

The only aim of using technology should be to develop teacher-students interactions, but this is not always happening. In fact, technology can push people even further apart, with the only interaction occurring between students and machines.

However, some new technologies can increase students' engagement outside of the classroom and prepare them for real discussions by providing access to lesson content and assessment before lessons. This turns a classroom into a place where content is being manipulated rather than passively received.

Current research (Crouch and Mazur, 2001) demonstrates that “students retain relatively little content from most lectures, but they do take away a lot about your attitude toward learning and your subject”.

“Technologies’ greatest gift is to release you from the tyranny of content. There is time for everything now. The real problem is that this now leaves you standing naked in front of your class wondering what will happen next. That is also the moment when the most real learning can take place. Be afraid, but take the risk”.

Sometimes, the teacher is ready to take the risk but the resistance comes from the students:
“The lecture model is pretty comfortable for both students and professors, after all, and so fundamental change may be even harder than it initially seems, whether or not laptops, iPods, or other cool gadgets are thrown into the mix.” (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

It is also a fact that ICT does not engage all students and “going naked” from time to time should benefit these students as well as widen the range of learning experiences of all students. My own experience was that a couple of students confirmed this at the end of the lesson by telling me: "Miss, we prefer it without the laptop”

I like the idea that class time should be used to manipulate and discuss content rather than passively receive it, but is it fair that not all students will have access to this pre-lesson briefing? The digital divide is still very present in many deprived areas and there is no quick and easy way to tackle this.

Would I use this as a management technique? I would not make it a permanent feature of the teaching in my Faculty-and certainly not interfere with equipment-, but I would particularly recommend that younger teachers try it to widen their teaching repertoire. More experienced teachers should also consider how they could adapt some old low-tech teaching activities to make them more relevant to the 21st century. After all, good teaching involves a wide repertoire of ideas to engage students-high tech AND low tech.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

MFL Flashmeeting 3: Let’s Connect Again!

The MFL twittering teachers are striking back!
This time, the virtual “Show and Tell” will take place on Monday 28 September 8.30-10.30pm GMT.

Participants will need to sign up here, on Lynne Horne’s wiki and the event will be hosted by the lovely Suzi Bewell.

Do you want to brainstorm ideas for your classrooms, share your latest projects with like-minded colleagues or simply find out what is happening with Languages in the UK?
All you need to do to take part is to click on the link for the meeting available on the registration page-and at the end of this post- and plug your webcam/ microphone. You can also type/chat to comment on what is being said and vote to express opinion as well as share links with the other participants.

Already on the agenda:
1. Cunning tips: how do you save time in blogging/podcasting/resource creating and so on, to keep work/life balance & prevent divorce/forgetting names of children, etc.?
2. What did YOU do for European Day of Languages and how did it go?
3. Is there a place for audio feedback instead of written feedback for pupils' work delivered via email or through a VLE?
4. How can blogging help raise intercultural understanding for pupils?
5. Is the specific teaching of phonics important and what difference does it make to pupils' understanding?
6. What's your favourite Web 2.0 tool at the moment and why?
7. How do you use your VLE and what sort of resources do you have on it?
and Go to the meeting . You will then be asked to give permission for your microphone or webcam to be used. Click Allow and then select Sign in as Guest. Click Enter.

Really looking forward to this one (again)...